When Kings Mountain, N.C.-based textile maker STI introduced its own brand of fabrics to the market, the business saw a boom in demand. Since 2019, this growth has led to more than doubling its workforce from 150 to 400 employees. As the need for workers grew, STI turned to the nearby Gaston Correctional Center and its work release program. Since the start of the partnership, some 40 inmates have come to work at the plant, weaving and warping yarn, cleaning facilities, preparing fabric and performing other duties needed around the business. Inmates only work on first shift and must follow strict rules to remain employed. A single infraction can take an inmate out of the program, and it may take years to get back in.
Of the inmates sent to work at STI, 10 have since been released from prison and come back to work full time at the plant.
While she never meant to play social worker and case worker for her employees, STI HR manager Sandra Jenkins said she doesn’t mind doing whatever it takes to make them successful while out of prison.
“Having a support system from someone who is established in the community or in the company is considered a priority,” she said. “And to be clear I don’t do the work for them. STI doesn’t do the work for them. I help them find what they need, but it is still on them to do it.”